Equal Educational Opportunity for Hispanic Students in the Oklahoma City Public Schools

Chapter 3

Community Perspective

When reviewing educational issues, the school district administrative office is a good source for information. Likewise, to provide a balance of viewpoints, community input from parents, students, and education advocates becomes important. The Advisory Committee received information from three community persons.

Amy Nazario, a parent and social worker who has worked in the Latino community of Oklahoma City, spoke to the Advisory Committee about her experience with the Oklahoma City public schools. Ms. Nazario thought that because she was Hispanic and had an accent, school personnel assumed that her son would have problems with language. However, her son has an English surname and speaks English as a language with no accent. But when Ms. Nazario would attend her son’s elementary school’s open house, she was always given a waiver form for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS).[1] She asked why she was given a waiver form, and the school’s representative responded that, since her son was from a household where Spanish was spoken he would have problems with the test.[2] Ms. Nazario thought it was strange that a school official was predicting problems in September for an achievement test that would be taken the following April.[3]  She never did sign the waivers.[4]

Ms. Nazario’s second encounter with the testing issue in the schools was as a sponsor of the Latino Leadership Club at Jackson Middle School. One spring morning, she told her students that she would not be at school the following week because no activities were allowed during the week that the ITBS was administered.[5]  Students in the Latino Leadership Club suggested to Ms. Nazario that she could go on a field trip to the zoo with them because they were not going to take the test. In the ensuing conversation with the club members, Ms. Nazario learned that their parents had signed the waiver forms that exempted them from taking the test.[6]  She learned from the club members that there were concerns that Latino students would lower the test results.[7]

Sergio Gallegos, Jr., is the chairperson of the Hispanic Advisory Committee to the Oklahoma City public schools. The Hispanic Advisory Committee has set a positive 5-year agenda to help Superintendent Marvin Crawford and the school district better understand the educational needs of the Hispanic community.[8] Mr. Gallegos said he was most passionate about the issue of exemption of students from taking the test of basic skills.[9]  He said that the exemption policy robs students from participation in enrichment programs.[10] Mr. Gallegos was of the opinion that exemption from taking the ITBS institutes the mentality in Hispanic children that they can no longer take exams because they might be handicapped, less capable, and less intelligent than their contemporaries.[11] He further stated that when a student does not take the ITBS, the classroom teacher has inadequate, incomplete information available to focus and reinforce the student’s academic ability.[12] Consequently, many students are moved up to their next grade without having the skills necessary to be successful at the next level.[13]  The result of delaying the education of students through exemption policies creates a mediocre education and a mediocre student who does not achieve his or her potential. These school district exemption procedures reinforces the stereotype that students cannot compete equally with those students who do take the ITBS test. Mr. Gallegos added that in real life there are no exemptions, and all people are judged under the same standards and are expected to compete.[14] He also said that providing Hispanic bilingual counselors and teachers in the schools would be helpful in removing the communication obstacle for many students.[15]

Johnny Charqueno, a senior at Northwest Classen High School and a member of the Latino Leadership Club, provided the Advisory Committee with a student’s perspective on the educational services he has received and observed in the Oklahoma City public schools.[16] He told the Advisory Committee that some of his friends
who were exempted from the ITBS were just glad they did not have to take another test and could spend the week watching movies.[17]  The disadvantage, he said, was that if a student did not take the test because of the exemption waiver signed by parents, he or she could not go to Classen High School, a school that has enrichment classes.[18]

Mr. Charqueno stated that many of his friends dropped out because they had been suspended a long time and also because of parent conferences.[19] At parent-teacher conferences, parents spoke only Spanish and nobody translated and the parents were scared of talking to the principal and not understanding the conversation. In the case of the suspended students, if they have six unexcused absences they would fail the semester and there was no reason for returning to school. They become “dropout statistics,” he said.[20]

[1] Amy Nazario, Statement before the Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Oklahoma City, Sept. 29, 1998, Transcript, p. 113 (hereafter cited as Transcript).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 115.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 116.

[8] Sergio Gallegos, Jr., Transcript, p. 128.

[9] Ibid., p. 132.

[10] Ibid., p. 139.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., pp. 140–41.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Johnny Charqueno, Transcript, p. 214.

[17] Ibid., p. 215.

[18] Ibid..

[19] Ibid., p. 220.

[20] Ibid.